Empire editorial: Lt. governor abuses his election authority

Posted: Sunday, October 24, 2004

The lieutenant governor's role is one that often fades into the background once a gubernatorial election is won, but Loren Leman is managing to grab far more newsprint than most who have held his office. Unfortunately, he's doing it by abusing the lieutenant governor's most important duty - overseeing elections.

This week backers of a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana filed suit against Leman because one of his staff members wrote the opposition statement to the proposition in the state's Official Election Pamphlet. The medical director of a drug treatment center signed the statement, but the words were mostly those of a Leman staffer. While the staff member claims she was in a time crunch and would have done the same for the other side, these are not legitimate excuses from an office that is supposed to remain impartial when distributing election information.

Already Leman's urge to inject his own agenda into the state's election pamphlet and ballot has cost Alaskans $295,000. An Anchorage Superior Court Judge in late September ordered the state to change this year's ballots because Leman had inserted wording into the supposedly neutral summary of an initiative on filling U.S. Senate vacancies. The ballot proposition calls for Senate vacancies to be filled by election, rather than by appointment by the governor. Leman inserted a statement that this measure would leave Alaska's Senate seat empty for three to five months. That claim is one of the key arguments by critics of this measure and is disputed by the measure's supporters.

After the court ruling against Leman, extra staff was needed to reprint and redistribute all 517,000 ballots by election time. But the wording did get into the election pamphlet that was sent out across the state.

Leman had tried to remove the initiative on Senate vacancies from the ballot twice, using claims that it was unconstitutional and then saying recent legislation achieved the same result as the proposition. But the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against Leman and ordered that the measure be placed back on the ballot.

While Leman talks about conducting the elections with integrity, his actions speak far louder than his words. He's lost his credibility as an impartial overseer of the state's election process. Usually the state election pamphlet is a safe place to go for a neutral summary of initiatives, followed by arguments on both sides, but this year, voters need to read the statements with some caution. And the next time Leman's name is on the ballot, voters need to remember how he tried to abuse his authority over elections to further his own agenda, and ask themselves if they really want to give this man any more power.

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